Performance Management

If I give my employees regular feedback about their work, why do I need to conduct formal evaluations?

Formal evaluations provide a framework for discussing the overall work of an employee. The information that comes out can lead to corrections of deficiencies and improved performance. Formal assessments can give employees recognition for past work and reinforcement for continued performance at that level. It can also identify employees who could benefit from coaching, to build their job skills, and formal counseling if there performance is marginal.

Finally, because appraisals are formalized, assessments are taken more seriously—not only by your employees but also you. The formal evaluation sets a baseline against which your employees can measure their own progress, and it forces you, as a manager, to look at each of your people in an objective manner and to take steps to improve their performance—even encourage them toward achievement of more challenging objectives.

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Both managers and employees dread performance assessments. On one side, employees worry because raises and promotions are at stake, sometimes even their job security. Managers also don't like them, because they are required to judge others. It's particularly uncomfortable when the employees' cooperation and support are necessary to bottom-line success. A good appraisal system relieves the pressure on both sides. When objectives are clear and set by managers and employees working together, and when they jointly monitor progress toward them, fair and accurate appraisals are almost guaranteed. Good workers get the recognition they deserve, and poor performers learn about problems hopefully before they grow out of control. Identified early, marginal performers can be salvaged through coaching and/or counseling.

What can I do to be a better evaluator?

The single most important ingredient is the setting of objectives or standards that reflect aspects of an employee's job that contribute most to the overall success of the job and that offer the greatest benefits to the organization. Once you have these in writing, and you and your employee have agreed to them as the basis for measurement over the next twelve months or whatever assessment time period, you need to maintain records based on your observation of the employee's job performance. Your appraisals must be regularly communicated to the employee, the frequency determined by the corporate appraisal system.

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If you want to become a better evaluator, here are some steps you should follow:

1. Ensure that the employee has accepted the standards or objectives by which he or she will be measured by involving the individual in the creation of these criteria.

2. Maintain records on employee performance, identifying both positive and negative examples of the employee's behavior.

3. Before making an assessment—either the final, end-of-year assessment or mid-year evaluations—review the written documentation. Highlight situations related to the objectives that you believe are important to an assessment of the employee's performance.

4. Don't discuss generalities. Refer to these specific situations to demonstrate key points you wish to make. Give the employee the opportunity to speak on each issue.

5. If the employee doesn't see the seriousness of his or her behavior, point out the implications to the unit's performance or broader corporate mission.

6. Don't avoid an issue because you believe it will raise unpleasantness between you and your employee. Remember that the point of the evaluation is to help the employee do a better job.

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